Melissa Hemsley Sarah Malcolm

Melissa Hemsley: Green Machine

Melissa Hemsley: Green Machine

She’s one-half of the uber cool Hemsley sisters, a Vogue columnist and SW London alumni – Melissa Hemsley talks SW London’s best cafes and flexitarian cooking with Chantal Borciani

In January 2020, Melissa published her latest solo cookbook, Eat Green, which aims to promote simple, good-for-you recipes that are affordable and cut back on food waste in the kitchen. Contrary to popular belief, Melissa is actually an omnivore and eats good quality meat and fish so this is no strict vegan doctrine, but rather a flexitarian approach to cooking and eating affordable everyday meals. Here she reveals why being flexible and aiming to use every scrap of produce is so important in this day and age…

What does Eat Green do differently?
I wrote Eat Green to be accessible to everyone, whether you’re an omnivore, a vegetarian or something in between.

You’ll find my usual feel-good, bold, delicious recipes as well as tonnes of flexi tips so that you can swap in the ingredients you have in your fridge, I’ve given an A-Z guide to using up your usual veg ‘scraps’, a seasonal calendar so you can use up the fruit and vegetables that are grown locally to you, plus lots of batch-cooking, freezer meal ideas, make-ahead work lunches and fridge forage recipes, which in my book are absolutely the tastiest meals!

What do you think the biggest misconception about plant-based eating is?
I think there’s a misconception that you have to make 100% perfect lifestyle or food choices 100% of the time, and if you can’t do that then it’s not worth starting at all. That approach is not only unhelpful and unrealistic, it can feel incredibly overwhelming.

I wanted to write a book that is, above all, flexible. This is the best way we can start to make small, better changes, and start to cook in a way that embraces more seasonal veg, less but better meat and cut our food waste too, all the while keeping things interesting and never boring.

How can we cut down our kitchen waste?
I’ve based the recipes in Eat Green on the most commonly bought and thrown away vegetables in the UK. On top of this I’ve included lots of tips, tricks and swaps so that you can let your fridge, freezer and cupboards do the talking.

Next time you’re cooking, grab a bowl and as you cook, throw in everything that you’d normally put in the bin, from veg scraps to the leftovers at the end of the meal. Could you make stock with those peelings? Could your blitz those extra greens into a lovely pesto or a creamy sauce? Could you make extra and freeze the rest for a rainy day?

Get inspired by your fridge, get more flexible with making swaps, start to use your freezer more and take a good look in your bin and see if there’s anything surprising in there! Some of the best and tastiest dinners I’ve ever made have been ‘fridge raids’ and lots of the recipes in Eat Green have come from this. Next time you’re hungry, take a good look in the fridge – can you make a soup, stir-fry, perhaps a frittata with what you’ve got?

What’s a great seasonal swap for spring?
At this time of year, we’ve still got plenty of hearty root veg and greens to eat, like kale, leeks, celeriac, cauliflower and delicious purple sprouting broccoli.

How can we make a positive impact on the environment?
It depends on what your values are so I’d really say that it’s important to start there. Perhaps you care about eating more seasonally and locally – check the labels on fruit and veg at the supermarket and make sure the next vegetable you buy comes from the UK. I’m also a big fan of Riverford’s veg box scheme.

Perhaps you want to cut your food waste – start today simply by cooking and as you go, think about what you can do with that last herb stalk or think about freezing that extra portion of leftovers.

What’s your favourite fast lunch recipe?
For a portable packed lunch, I’ll pack up a wedge of my fridge-raid broccoli frittata or a flask of one of the comforting soups. If I’m staying at home and cooking for guests, I’ll whip up the parsnip dahl with pink pickled onions. I freeze the simple batter for the tahini choc chip cookies then slice off as many slices as I fancy and bake them from frozen. They are so delicious!

Where are your favourite cafes in SW London?
I grew up in Kingston and then lived in Brixton and Stockwell for a few years so spent lots of time in Clapham, Battersea and Fulham. I’m a big fan of Rude Health and the founders; I love their buckwheat flour, and they have a great cafe in Fulham.

Near Vauxhall, I adore Jackson Boxer and Brunswick House. The Gladwin brothers’ restaurant, Nutbourne in Battersea has a focus on wild, locally grown produce and well-reared meat from their Sussex farm.

Any favourite restaurants?
I think Robin Gill is an incredible chef and used to enjoy eating lots at The Dairy; cultured butters, fantastic veg techniques and clever waste-free dishes honouring root to fruit eating.

Where can we shop sustainably in SW London?
There are some great refill shops in SW London like Zéro in Wimbledon, Gather in Peckham and The Common Cafe in Clapham Common. I work lots with The Felix Project who rescue food and share food all over London. There’s also Brixton’s People’s Kitchen who have been there for years, turning food surplus into feasts from their mobile kitchen-bike.

Eat Green by Melissa Hemsley is out now. Ebury Press. £22